As with other areas of the law, the Maryland law on rear end collisions has evolved over the years. The basic law continues to require the rearward motorist to maintain a safe distance so as to be able to avoid striking the forward vehicle. The forward vehicle is charged with the duty to stop in a manner that gives adequate notice to the rearward vehicle of the intention to stop. This duty upon the forward motorist has given rise to the sudden stop defense that is often seen in rear end collisions.
In Brehm v. Lorenz, 206 Md. 500, 112 A.2d 475 (1955), the court upheld a directed verdict against the Plaintiff, who was a passenger in a car that came to a sudden stop to avoid an animal and was then struck from behind. Using the now disfavored “mere happening of an accident” analysis, the Court held that there had been no showing by the Plaintiff as to why they were struck, just that they were struck from behind, which alone was not proof of negligence.
In Teufel v. O’Dell, 123 Md.App. 51, 716 A.2d 1067 (1998), the court grappled with a rear-end collision under different facts. In Teufel, the forward car was intending a right turn at a red signal and was struck from behind. The Defendant contended that the lead car started into the right turn, then stopped again without warning, leading to the collision. The jury held that both drivers were negligent and the Plaintiff was denied recovery. On appeal, the court held that this case was
distinguishable from most sudden stop decisions in that the stop did not occur mid-block, but occurred under a red light where the Plaintiff was legally obligated to stop and then proceed with caution into the right turn. The court reversed, holding that it is neither negligent nor unforeseeable that the forward driver may have to stop more than once while attempting a right turn under a red light.
In Andrade v. Housein, 147 Md. 617, 810 A.2d 494 (2001), the court appeared to make a significant change to the burden of proof seen in the Brehm case. In Andrade, the Plaintiff’s vehicle was struck from behind while stopped at an intersection. The Defendant did not appear for trial. At the end of the evidence the Court entered judgment against the Plaintiff, finding no evidence of negligence on the part of the Defendant, just a mere happening of an accident. The CSA reversed, and held, for the first time, that where the lead car is lawfully stopped and is struck from behind, there is a “presumption of negligence” on the part of the Defendant, and the Plaintiff need not show why the Defendant didn’t stop. That presumption, of course, is rebuttable by the Defendant.
However, in the subsequent decision of Cooper v. Singleton, 217 Md.App. 626, 94 A.2d 250 (2014), the Court took great pains to clarify that any “presumption” announced in Andrade shifted only the burden of production, and that the ultimate burden of persuasion in a negligence action always rests on the Plaintiff.
In other words, in a classic rear-end scenario, the Plaintiff may not receive an unfavorable directed verdict for not showing why the Defendant was negligent. But if the Defendant responds with evidence on the issue, in most cases a jury question is created, with the Plaintiff continuing to bear the ultimate burden of persuasion.